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October 1, 2015

Movie Review: "The Green Inferno" (2014; Blumhouse Tilt/Universal/High Top Releasing)

...as they said in that old cigarette commercial, 'you've come a long way, baby!!"...

...yes, indeed-ee, folks!! We've definitely come a long way, as far as an semblance of depiction of that oh-so taboo subject of unspeakable horror...that oh-so forbidden atrocity of human behavior...namely, the subversive and gut-wrenching concept of (...yeech!!) human cannibalism. Oh granted, in the past, we're toyed and danced around the ghastly activity, from a pop culture perspective...tempering the material with a certain overt and irreverent level of chuckle-able, knee-slapping humor. Surely, you remember those corny and stereotyped 'Looney Tunes"...the ones which had a helpless and clueless, jungle-entrenched Elmer Fudd, soaking in a big ol' black pot of steaming hot water, while a black-faced, grass-skirted primitive with bone through his nose, and sporting dreadlocks (...'onga-bonga-bonga, onga-bonga-bonga'), is cutting up carrots and potatoes into the bulbous cooking vessel. And a wayward-traveling Bugs Bunny, having taken that wrong turn at Albuquerque once again, burrows in at the last moment, and saves the day...as well as Elmer's skin, quite literally...

...and to that...oh, how we laughed...and laughed...and laughed some more...

...and later, there arose a certain social fascination with media-saturated criminal history, and the equally heinous and unspeakable crimes of true-life cannibals, like Ed Gein and Albert Fish...the horrific exploits of which were incorporated into a provocative and controversial sub-genre of horror films, stemming back as far as 1960's "Psycho". and in years to come, we'd revisit these concepts, time and time again, translated into terror films like "Deranged", the later "Hannibal" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Heck, even during this period, filmmakers would again attempt to temper that oh-so horrific idea of cannibalism, by injecting comical fervor into the ghastly and gruesome proceedings, as evident by dark-humored fright films, such as "Motel Hell", "Delicatessen" and "Parents", just to name a tender and juicy few...



...and again...oh, how we laughed...and laughed...and laughed some more...

...tsk, tsk, and harrumph...oh, how we just 'ate up' all that chuckle-inducing cinematic depiction of 'human consumption of humans'...eh, lip-smacking delectable, to be sure, but ultimately sanitized, dark humor-ized and and commercialized for...well, for reasonably accepting general public viewing...chomp, chomp, crunch, crunch, and...burp. Little did the unwary generic status quo know, as far as what laid within in the dark recesses of this particular sub-genre of horror...something solely and exclusively privied by the most ardent and hardened horror-philes, during a limited window period of classic grindhouse cinema...say, around the late '70's, to the mid '80's. Yes, folks...we're talking the notorious and infamous sub-genre of Italian cannibal films. Unflinching. Grotesque. Uncomfortably Harrowing. Over-the-Top Ultra-Violent. The kind of unnerving and disturbing cinematic excursion, where you want to turn away, but you can't...or, to quote a line from the incredibly gory trailer for the outrageous, albeit comic bookish 1981 'pasta land' gut-muncher, "Make Them Die Slowly", also known as "Cannibal Ferox"...'too disgusting to watch, too bizarre to resist'. And so, the exploitative titles flowed like crimson carrion...titles like "Last Cannibal World", "Cannibal Holocaust", "Eaten Alive", "Cannibal Apocalypse", and almost countless others...

...and as we took in all this gritty, raw, wild and unbridled depravity...oh, how we lau-...

...well, OK...barring the campy and ludicrous acting & dialogue, not to mention the incredulous predicaments, we didn't laugh...far from it, in fact...which was wholly understandable as these tasty & gory little imported morsels...80-proof tequila shooters for the eyes and mind, so to speak...were dead serious in their intent, and in most cases, genuinely projected...providing one can get passed the disturbing imagery...underliningly poignant and ironic messages about invasion of space, the raping of the land & the decimation of it's native residents, savage 'eye for an eye' retribution, the wayward effect of viral infection, and/or the questioning of who is the true savage...the uncivilized 'primitive', or the so-called civilized 'invader'...

...but heck...enough 'chewin' da' fat' about ancient history, and the 'local native cuisine'...

...now, to be quite candid...considering the genre, in which director Eli Roth was inspired by, in doing the film...this viewer has to readily admit to a good measure of apprehension in engaging an advance screening of Eli's new, albeit long-overdue shock-o-rama, "The Green Inferno". Not that this viewer felt that he wasn't necessarily up to the task in coming up with something that adoringly, albeit unflinchingly homages the like of provocative filmmakers Ruggero Deodato or Umberto Lenzi; on the contrary, considering the unbridled and eye-popping shock level of Eli Roth's previous fantastic film fare (..."Hostel" or "Cabin Fever|, anyone??), the aforementioned apprehension seemed more akin to Eli's next production going 'balls to the wall', with his film having potentially and embraceably adapted the genre too well...in effect, sort of eliciting a good measure of deliciously uncomfortable 'what the hell am I getting myself into, in watching this' apprehension, which was ardently present when this viewer apprehensively tackled an initial viewing of "Cannibal Holocaust" or "Cannibal Ferox". There's no denying the audience-wide...not just horror film auteurs...appreciation of Eli Roth's body of work in the horror and terror film genres; whittled from pretty much the same wood that director Quentin Tarantino draws from, in the sense that they both like to toy around with pop culture and movie genres, effectively turning them on their ear, giving the nostalgic proceedings their own personal touch, and gleefully dishing it out to the movie-watching masses, with a slightly sinister grin that quite literally cries out, "...man, do I have something to show you all!!"...

...then again, this 'apprehensive' viewer did engage "The Green Inferno" at a family-friendly AMC theater, of all places...so really, just how harsh, potent and 'no holds barred' uncomfortable could the movie actually be, considering the screening venue?? Hmmmm...let's see, shall we??...

...initially put off by the rallying commotion, which was annoyingly instigating outside her window during early-morning post-party recovery hours, college freshman Justine finds herself drawn toward the leader of the on-campus protest group, Alejandro...a bit perhaps, by way of some roguishly handsome looks, but more so, in his charisma and enthusiasm in petitioning against invasive land developers, plaguing primitive and undeveloped regions...tearing through the wildly thick, untamed and unexplored jungle foliage, and at the same time, driving out the native tribes, living within. Expressing interest in the cause, despite discouragement by her respected U.N. lawyer father, Justine is initially reject in joining the group, due to her inadvertent condescending personality; however, interest in the group's determined intent is proportionately raised, in sitting through a lecture about seemingly cruel and sadistic treatment of native women, living in the self-same 'uncivilized' tribes, and after apologizing to Alejandro for her earlier behavior, Justine is elated in having been inducted into the group...though admittedly apprehensive, considering that the well-intent group is immediately prepared to fly out to the South American amazon jungles, to instigate their protest...into a realm where she...as well as the others, are...for the most part...hardly prepared for...
...once in the thick of things, so to speak, the intrepid protest group cautious trek miles into the rugged jungle foliage, and once they arrive on the site of what appears to be a governmental-sponsored construction crew...protected by armed militants, and tearing through the course jungle thicket with their heavy duty equipment...the covert group quickly dons construction crew overalls & hardhats, inconspicuously passing through the working crew site, and proceeds to chain themselves to the trunks of trees, which still lie in the path of the bulldozers. To Justine's horror...just as Alejandro begins broadcasting the group's protest, via a satellite connection attuned with the group's I-Phones, and the ensuing activity draws the attention of the surrounding construction workers and militant guards...she is aghast to discover that her chain & lock restraints are inexplicably not allowing her to secure herself to the foliage, as the others have done. Seeing this, the militants take Justine aside, putting her down on her knees, and threatening to shoot her, unless the protest group abandons their activity, and surrenders themselves. Initially rebellious of the demand, and seemingly willing to sacrifice Justine for the cause, Alejandro eventually backs down...more or less satisfied with the broadcast efforts...and the group is restrained, arrested and escorted back to the local airport, where a prop place has been prepped and readied to take them back, to where they came from...
...however, while flying over the endless miles of still untouched and unexplored deep jungle territory, the plane's engines malfunction, causing the air vessel to take a fatal plummet down into the thick, emerald-blanketed foliage...breaking apart in freefall, and loosing a good portion of the frantic passengers in the air, along the way. Crashing through the jungle thicket, and onto the hard-soiled surface beneath, the remaining smattering of survivors...including Justine and Alejandro...recover themselves from the crash, are horrified at the ghastly & gruesome deaths of their fellow protesters...their bodies scattered about the wreckage, begin to take stock in where they might be, and how they might escape from their situation. However, the survivors are afforded little time to consider that very thing, as the realized that they are being stalked & watched...and soon after, are inescapably surrounded by scantly clad natives, armed with spears, and before the know it, the swift cadre of primitives viciously attack the crash survivors with a relentless flight of drugged darts...
...the 'invaders'...now subdued and tied down...are transported by canoe, and forcibly dragged into the native village, at which time, they are strangely, albeit elatedly fawned and pawed over by the gathered and rather excited population of the village. This 'welcoming' gesture proves hardly a matter of hospitality and accommodation, as soon after, the hapless group is thrust into and locked in bamboo enclosures, to await...what?? There invariably proves to be an unfortunate answer to that query, as well, when one of the captive group's members is taken to a stone pillar, tied down...kicking and screaming. A sharpened blade is raised, slammed home, and...well, let's just say, quite frankly, that it soon becomes perfectly and horrifically clear what harrowing fate has in store for the rest of the group...
...but then, any ill-informed and ill-prepared...movie watcher-wise...who ventures into "The Green Inferno", and at this point, doesn't realize what purports to happen next, is clearly in the wrong theater auditorium, and needs to scurry their unwary butts over to the next room, where the safe & sane "Ant-Man" is playing, for the umpteenth time, before they find themselves as 'in over their head' as our haplessly captured and soon-to-be-the-main-course protesters, desperately rattling their cages in fearful and terrified anticipation. And as forewarned poignant a statement as that is...which again is understandable, considering the subject matter of the film, as well as director Eli Roth's penchant for 'going for the throat', as far as gore-slicked shock...those relatively well prepared (...i.e., those long since hardened by the unnerving and grotesque sights & sounds, seen in the old-school Italian cannibal genre films), to bravely stick around for what follows...well, they might genuinely be let down, as "The Green Inferno"...although the prerequisite and expected shocks are there...nonetheless repeatedly pulls it's punches, throughout the final gripping throes of the film...
...it is invariable and wholly unavoidable that anyone privy to the Italian cannibal film genre, will invariably make comparisons, with regards to "The Green Inferno". the gritty, semi-documentary film style of the former, versus the 'rustically slick' fell of the the latter (...the same 'rustically slick' which this viewer could not help but apply to recent horror remakes, like "Friday the 13th", "The Last House on the Left" and "I Spit on Your Grave", amongst others). The 'oh gawd, hands-across-the-face-though-still-peeking-through-the-fingers' lingering, unflinching and grotesque imagery of the original inspiration, as opposed to the 'ew, did you see that' quick-look-and-cut-away approach of the newly inspired. One one hand, there's the sense of 'these hapless folks are going to be dragged though hell', and you cannot help but get caught up in the terror, and feel forcibly taken along for the ride...as compared to the new incarnation of the genre, harboring the sense that 'yeah, these hapless folks are going to be dragged through hell', but there's no worry, as you are merely the voyeur, and as such, safe and sound in your theater seat. And then, there's the overall uncomfortable feeling which crawls under one's skin, from first frame to the last, as experienced in the old-school stuff...versus the fleeting, few and far between such moments offered in Eli Roth's take on the genre...

...now that we have that out of our system...
...surprisingly enough, in as much as "The Green Inferno" pays adoring homage to films like "Cannibal Holocaust" and "Make Them Die Slowly", one cannot help but notice equal nods towards compelling movie  adventure excursions, such as 1985's "The Emerald Forest", and even to a marked degree, a certain resemblance to tense and violent actioners, not unlike 1980's 'primitives vs. captives' themed "The Island". The derogatory ideals associated with the decimation of primitive tribes, for the sake of civilized progress, and the resulting retribution & savagery, which invariably stirs and drives the victimized primitives. The psychology, cleverness, resourcefulness, and ruthless sense of community survival & defense of the so-called savages, by which the 'invading forces' find themselves underestimating, as as such, ill-prepared for. The underlining politics, which come into play, as far as the true motivations of the invasive protagonists. All of which, whether by intent or convenience, genuinely tempers the intensity and shock value of the 'cannibal' aspects of the proceedings...
...and further watering down the overall 'cannibalistic' terror of the events, as they unfold...in effect, making "The Green Inferno" seem more like an intense, shock-filled adventure drama, rather than the outright exploitative terror film, which was the hallmark of the Italian cannibal films...yes, it seems that the writing powers-that-be have chosen to instill a a fervor of comical relief into the horrific proceedings...a fervor which proves juvenile and almost distracting, at times. A severe case of very painful diarrhea comes across as giggly. An attempt to escape by duping, or rather 'doping' the primitives through a most covert and unconventional means, proves laughable, in a rather twisted 'Cheech & Chong Meets the Farrelly Brothers' kind of way. And an ill-placed CGI moment, involving a death-dealing attack on a captive, by an overwhelming mass of fire ants, appears way too cartoonish, as opposed to horrific, and as such, is easily shaken off...
...unconventionally, "The Green Inferno" does have some rather interesting moments. Unlike the generic and virtually character-less natives of the Italian cannibal films...the lot of which Eli Roth has drawn further inspiration from, appearance-wise, as far as the overall look of the natives in his film (...including those gawd-awful Moe Howard, crossed with The Beatles hairdos), there is some amusingly coy and sinister character instilled in some of the savages (...an ironic observation, considering that most of the so-called 'civilized' protagonists in the film...with the exception of the main characters, are pretty generic and character-less, themselves); there's no denying the macabre and sinister characterization, instilled upon the savage village's elder...oh, that smile...that uncomfortably disarming & bone-chilling, head-cocked smile, which proceeds almost every act of violence, herein...BRRRRR!!!
...talent-wise, the entourage of performers herein, are culled...for the most part...from earlier Eli Roth productions, including broadcast TV staple Richard Burgi (..."Hostel, Part 2"), Ariel Levy (..."Aftershock"), Ramon Llao (..."Aftershock"), Lorenza Izzo (..."Knock, Knock"; "Aftershock"), and Nicolas Martinez (..."Aftershock")...

...and so, after all the media-driven talk and hoopla...the year or so, in which the film sat on a shelf...the exploitative and sensationalist promotion...the word on the grapevine that no major studio would even touch the film, as far as distribution and release...the very subject matter of the film itself, all wrapped up, nice & neat, and shamelessly slotted in general public theater auditoriums, right smack in between some chatty diminutive minions, and an ant-size superhero...was it worth the wait, in finally trekking into "The Green Inferno"?? Well, let's put it this way: though it might be quite readily suggestive that fans of Eli Roth...nay, even fans of the Italian cannibal films, themselves...had hoped that this homage would be a gleefully disturbing, sleazy and uncomfortable gorefest, not that far removed from it's genre inspiration...hopes for a film with balls...big, hairy, sweaty cahones, pridefully & shamelessly dangled right in the face...and yet, upon final credit roll, may well have been invariably disappointed, in that 'eloquent' regard...yet may also have a full understanding as to why the "The Green Inferno" was prone to pulling it's punches, even by Eli Roth standards...there remains nonetheless, a great, albeit intense little adventure thriller, with respectable shock value, rather than a mere juxstapositioned horror film, as might have been expected. For general public consumption, "The Green Inferno" will most assuredly not disappoint (...though the subject matter might give cause for viewer apprehension); but for those who are expecting considerably more...eh, this might be a let-down, but eh...why not, it's still well worth a look...

...if at the very least, you'll laugh (...then gasp)...and laugh (...then gasp)...and laugh some more...heck, maybe even a bit maniacally...

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